Anxiety, Paranoia and Fear of Being Alone Rising to the Surface at Night

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Reader’s Question

For about two and a half years now I have been having some weird depression episodes. I haven’t found a disorder that has these specific symptoms, which is why I think it is weird. It doesn’t happen every day, and it usually only happens at night when I’m alone. The usual symptoms include: irrational thoughts, jealousy, monophobia, low self-esteem, paranoia that people are lying, and blaming myself. When this happens I usually talk to people who I think will understand (boyfriends and really close male friends). I’m afraid that my female friends will just think I’m crazy and overreact. The episodes usually last for about 15 minutes to an hour or two. Afterwards, I feel guilty and apologize to my boyfriend, whom I usually take my stress out on when I have these episodes. Also, I don’t like not having a guy around. I feel like I have to have an intimate relationship, otherwise I feel lonely more than usual. But, on a regular day, I’m perfectly normal. Can you tell me what might possibly be wrong?

Psychologist’s Reply

What you are describing are symptoms of anxiety, depression and negative/fearful thinking that occur only at night. You described having monophobia, which is not a DSM-IV diagnosis but a term that refers to a fear of being alone. There are a couple of things to take into consideration about the situation you are describing.

First of all, many people experience a rush of emotions at night as a result of stuffing their emotions during the day. It is not uncommon for individuals to avoid feeling uncomfortable emotions by staying busy or distracting themselves. They may push themselves to stay busy during the day with work, school, or other peoples’ problems and the world around them. What then happens is that as the day begins to slow down and you are alone with your thoughts (nighttime or as you lay down to go to bed), the feelings rise to the surface.

The stuffed feelings that rise to the surface can feel overwhelming, and you may recognize that they are not rational (jealousy, paranoia, extreme self blame, etc.). What makes this difficult is that when you are alone at home or in your bed you may feel even more trapped than you would if you felt this way during the day. If it’s late at night and you are in your bed, you may have fewer outlets to deal with the problems than you would if it was during the day. And you may be tired and fatigued, which makes dealing with the difficult emotions even more challenging. This is why it is to your benefit to address emotions during the day rather than letting them build until nighttime.

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One of the first steps to dealing with this situation in a healthier way is to begin to pay attention to your emotions during the day. Check in with how you are feeling when you first wake up. Check in while you eat lunch. Check in again on your way home from work. When you notice a distressing feeling during the day, acknowledge it and see if you can find a way to cope with it in the moment. You may also find that speaking with a counselor will help you get to the root of these emotions you are having at night.

Another aspect of your situation that is worthy of comment is your feeling that you need to have a man in your life at all times. It sounds like you recognize that this is not healthy, and you are right. It is important that you learn to live with yourself and learn to tolerate and manage feelings of loneliness. Constantly looking to others to fill a void within you only sets you up to have 1) unhealthy relationships with others and 2) an unhealthy relationship with yourself.

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